As I write this, I’m in the final chapters of reading Frank Sheed’s 1947 book Theology and Sanity. With all of the books out there that I could be reading, I went out of my way to get a copy of this one… and I’m extremely glad that I did.
I got it thanks to Dr. Peter Kreeft’s recommendation that he made during his talk entitled “Seven Reasons to be Catholic” (available through Lighthouse Catholic Media). Kreeft is a Catholic philosopher who has written over 50 books. He’s a super smart guy. He said, “Frank Sheed’s Theology and Sanity is probably the best single work of Catholic apologetics in the 20th century. It contains, for instance, the clearest explanation of the Trinity that I’ve ever read. He writes with clarity, and power…” So yeah with a description like that I knew I needed to add it to the list. I made the mistake, however, of ordering a recent edition from Catholic Way Publishing which turned out to be rife with typos. Bummer. I’ve gone through my copy with a pencil making basic corrections as I read. Hopefully future editions from that publisher will have corrected the errors, but I recommend the reliable Ignatius Press edition.
Many of my fellow Christians are familiar with the excitement one gets from reading C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity for the first time. It’s the experience of seeing your own faith articulated in such a way that you want to share it with everyone. This book is like that, but for Catholics it not only explores the faith in a general way, it also dives into some extremely deep subjects with the sort of clarity that we laymen require. Sheed writes to the average person, making use of accumulated knowledge that has taken theologians centuries to carefully unpack.
As I tend to like orderly ways of doing things, I appreciate how Sheed starts with the necessary basics (such as the importance of theology and the proper mindset with which to approach it), and builds upon each subject as he progresses. We often struggle in understanding God simply because we haven’t been taught certain understandable truths about Him. Sheed explains how God transcends time and space, and how He is essential to the existence of everything. This book confidently tackles difficult questions about God that I would have assumed were best avoided. The Trinity is explained very carefully yet understandably. This alone is worth the price of the book, as it is very easy to stumble into heresy when not properly educated on the subject. The Trinity is an essential aspect of Christian beliefs that is not easy to explain, so make sure you’re getting it right. But Sheed goes further, explaining creation, angels, the fall of man, the story of salvation history, Jesus’ teachings and sacrifice, and His establishment of the Church and what that means for us. The more we understand these things, the better sense we can make of our existence. The better we understand real theology, the saner we are as human beings.
By the way, Sheed isn’t just relying on logic and tradition; he also bases his statements on Scripture and the writings of great men from Church history like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. He writes about life as part of the Body of Christ, and life after death; the end of the world, and what a life of grace looks like. Although this book was written decades ago, his insight into modern society may as well have been written yesterday. We see the hopelessness of atheism (nisi Dominus frustra: without God there is only frustration), and we see the slide toward sin (even among Christians) apart from well-established expectations, and we see the general unhappiness and spiritual sloth that develop apart from the Church.
What’s very satisfying about this book is how Sheed manages to tie these various subjects together in such a way that they build upon each other, so he can keep his explanations brief and flowing logically. It’s all basically intertwined, but it takes someone with an overall understanding to explain it properly.
Disclaimer: as easy as this book is to understand compared to many others like it, I still had to digest it in small doses (sometimes reading out loud while pacing with coffee) because it’s deep stuff. Our minds today are not conditioned to delve deeply… we lack the mental muscle so to speak. However, having said that, if you want to understand the Christian faith in a way that can weather storms, I highly recommend this book. Many people have their faith established in their hearts, but I encourage you to also have it established in your head. It’s worth your time.
“This book contains theology, not the great mass of it that theologians need, but the indispensable minimum that every man needs…” –Frank Sheed